A white (faranje) adoptive mother to two Ethiopian (habesha) girls wends her way through
Exotic Ethiopian Cooking by D. J. Mesfin

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yet'ef Injera, day #3

"Yet'ef injera is a soft, spongy, sour bread made from a rye like grain called t'ef which is grown in Ethiopia.  A staple food, it is served with all kinds of dishes on any occasion and eaten with the fingers, and is usually served cold." ~ D. J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, p. 79-80

Houston, we have injera!
It was not great injera (though the Ethiopians begged to differ), but I am excited about where the process took me.  I learned a lot, and I feel fairly confident that I have a decent foundation upon which to build.  Lest you think I lead some sort of charmed life and was able to just churn out injera like scrambled eggs, let me introduce you to my first piece:

It eventually got better.  (How could it get much worse, right?)  But first things first.  This morning, this is what greeted me in the injera pot:

See?  Pretty nasty, huh?  Though at least this wasn't black like it was yesterday morning.  The batter was definitely smelling quite sour, too.  The first order of business was to get rid of the water from the top of the batter.  This was actually quite easy.  I just tilted the pot and slowly poured it off until I got down to the batter.  

Then I took a cup of the batter, added it to a couple of cups of boiling water, and cooked until the mixture had thickened (this mixture is called "absit"), which didn't take long at all:

absit bubbling away
This was left to cool for a bit, doing some serious congealing as it did so:

Once cool, the absit was then added back into the rest of the batter and "more water" was added; there were no measurements given for this amount at all, so I just kept adding water until I had a batter that looked good to me (I aimed for the consistency of a crepe batter and tested it by pouring it from a spoon).  At this point, I did pull out the immersion blender and tackled the lumps that were present from the absit until I had a fairly smooth batter.  I then whisked it a bit by hand; I don't know why.  

Then, I let it sit for a bit to do a final rise.  I was multitasking, so I'm not sure how long I left it.  I made lunch, made the yesiga t'ibs and got it into the crockpot, made the Ethiopians' lunches for tomorrow (they'll be thrilled to learn that I later went back and stuck in some injera), consoled a playground injury, ate lunch, ran to the grocery store, and came back to this:

"Double, double toil and trouble/Fire burn, and cauldron bubble." ~ Shakespeare's Macbeth
I took some video to show that this was very actively bubbling...no cooking was involved at this point!

Now it was time to cook the injera!  I had read many times about folks not getting the pan hot enough, so I took my frying pan and set our glass cook-top to 8 (9 is the highest setting).  Once water danced upon the surface of the skillet, I poured about 3/4 cup of batter into the pan and covered it (despite its pancake-like demeanor, you don't flip injera; the top gets cooked via the steam provided by a lid).  I was excited to see the bubbles forming.  It was looking like....injera!  I dutifully set the timer and watched for the curling edges, which supposedly signaled done-ness.  And, as you've already seen, I ended up with this:

What you're looking at is a largely gooey mess.  The bottom was nearly burning, yet there were pockets of raw batter.  It stuck horribly (a common issue, I've heard).  Thus started my quest to figure out what I was doing wrong.  It turns out that there were a number of things going wrong and it took many, many more failed attempts before I started seeing progress.  At first, I thought maybe I didn't have the heat up high enough, so I turned it up.  That wasn't it.  The bottom was still cooking pretty quickly and the edges were curling up, yet the top wasn't cooking.  So I tried ditching the timer and leaving it in the pan until it looked like it was done:

Nope, that wasn't it either.  Yes, the top was done, but the bottom was burned and crunchy and crunchy injera isn't flexible, doesn't roll up well, and smells awful.  So, in a completely counterintuitive move, I moved the heat down to 5, almost dead medium.  Eureka #1!  I had actually had the heat up way too high and the injera needed to cook at a more temperate heat in order to cook evenly.  It wasn't an immediate success, and I have the botched injera in the wastebasket to prove it, but it quickly became evident that this was a key discovery.  

At first, I was still having problems with goopiness.  The edges would be curling, which I kept reading meant it was done, yet when I tried to remove it, there would be sticking on the bottom and uncooked batter on the top.  I was diligent with the timer and I wasn't getting why it wasn't working.  I finally decided to stop using the timer and let it cook a little bit longer.  Eureka #2!  The batter only sticks on the bottom when it's not done.  I never used spray oil or anything like that in the pan; I remember reading that that only makes matters worse.  That's not to say I wasn't sorely tempted at some points, but I resisted the urge and, sure enough, when an injera is done, it doesn't stick at all.  Even a few seconds too early will result in sticking.  When an injera is done, you should be able to pull it up by the edges with both hands, lift it up, and get it onto a plate without injury.  If you're burning your fingers because it's too hot, it means there's still too much steam in the injera because it's still a bit too wet (even if it's not sticking on the bottom).  Here you can see some perfectly curled edges:

Somewhere along the way, I also experimented with using a lot less batter than was called for and I started putting it into the pan differently.  Originally, I was using the traditional technique of pouring the batter from a cup around the pan in a circle, moving from the outside in.  It was just too much batter and it wasn't cooking well, even on the more moderate heat.  What I started doing instead was using a ladle and pouring a much smaller amount of batter into the pan.  I then lifted up the pan, tilted it, and moved it around so that I was increasing the area that the batter covered.  I tilted and swirled the batter until it cooked enough to stop moving.  I then replaced the pan and threw on the lid.  This led to the best results.  My injera was pitifully thin, but I am fairly certain that this was a function of making the batter too watery.  I kept hoping that adding more batter would make a thicker injera, but it never quite worked out that way.  

Once I had a good level of heat and the proper amount of batter, I found I was encountering another problem.  With the lid on the pan for the entire time, I was getting condensation dropping from the lid onto the top of the injera, which would effectively dissolve the section upon which it landed.  Removing the lid would allow it to re-cook, but then I was having to leave injera in too long just to fix a little area of an edge or two.  I will admit that I tried flipping the injera a few times, hoping that I could just finish off the too-wet sections.  It's what you do with pancakes, right?  Well, I learned that injera batter is not pancake batter and flipping it doesn't work at all.  I then tried just taking the lid off, but it was clear that the injera needed to be covered to cook properly, so, instead, at the first sign of a condensation drip, I tried cracking the lid and tilting slightly it towards a small, empty section of the pan (I wasn't making pan-sized injera by now so that I could test this technique).  This was a good-enough fix, but I'd really like to try using a mesob cover or something that vents a bit better, while still providing enough steam.  

I eventually found my groove and was able to churn out an impressive stack of injera, even as the Ethiopians kept coming in and asking for more:

This injera is made with 100% teff flour.  The Ethiopians loved it, but my husband and I weren't enthralled.  We ate it and it wasn't horrible, but we're used to the gorgeously pillowy injera offered by our local restaurant and it is that towards which I am aiming.  Next time, I am planning on cutting the teff flour with buckwheat flour.  I'm also going to use less water so that I can try to get a thicker injera and I may try cutting the fermentation by a day (this was very sour injera).  However, I made sure to snag some starter from this batch because it just seemed appropriate to build upon the beginning batch!  

the starter for next time

There will definitely be more injera-making to come, and I look forward to getting it perfect some day!  


  1. Congratulations! Thank you so much for documenting all of this for those of us who are inspired by you and hope to follow in your footsteps.

  2. Sounds like you're on your way to creating your own injera. Have you seen this blog and the associated youtube videos? http://burakaeyae.blogspot.com/ I'm sure you have, but just wanted to mention it in case you or your readers hadn't seen it. It's amazingly helpful. I decided that since I don't have a mitad, I might be destined to fail. It's on my shopping list for our trip to Ethiopia though!

  3. I've heard you can make injera with Shiro powder instead of teff too. Which would make sense as when in ET we were served two different colors of injera.. the dark and the lighter which I'm assuming was the shiro? Am I crazy? Anyone know?

  4. Jessica, I used to think it would be impossible without a mitad, but after doing it, I'm not convinced. I've heard that Target sells this -- http://tiny.cc/mitad -- which is the same exact thing sold by Ethiopian stores in the US (you'd need to buy the cover, too). Don't get me wrong, I'm getting one, as I like the idea of perfectly steady heat, but if I had to rank the effect that using a skillet on the stove top had in my results, it would rank quite low. And thanks for the link! And Shannon, shiro powder is just garbanzo bean flour, so that makes sense to me!!

  5. Okay, you've convinced me. I'll give it another try. :)

  6. Injera can not be made from shiro. You can eat injera with shiro.There is brown or red teff and also Ivory teff. Ivory teff looks like shiro.

  7. Hey Good job. Really.
    The ratio of absit to batter is roughly about a cup to a quarts. The consistancy of batter (lit) need to be like some what a pancake batter. Wait like 4-5 hours till it subside.
    One more tip try to drizzle the lit in a circular way and then move around the pan to fill any gaps.
    Good Luck
    See with injera no science just follow your heart it get's better and better every time.
    The absit is the majic to lock all the bobbles.

  8. Really wounder full...super.can u tell another one......